Weight Training: Better Fitness, Better Health – Part II

“Every decade, starting in your mid 30s, you lose a percentage of muscle, which affects your metabolism, balance, and ability to brace yourself in the event of an injury.”

                           – Larysa DiDio, certified personal trainer and contributing fitness editor to Prevention Magazine.

Additionally, most post-menopausal  women who get regular well-woman checkups have heard that  they are probably losing bone mass as well, and are then sent off to get a dexa-scan for verification of  a diagnosis of either osteopenia, or worse, osteoporosis.

All of this is not happy news for those of us who are trying to take good care of ourselves by eating good, fresh foods as close to nature as we can, with processing kept to a minimum. We exercise, get adequate rest, and still Mother Nature gives us reminders of  our maturity and ultimate mortality.

There is some good news here for us. It is called Weight Training – exercise that uses the resistance of muscles to rebuild them, and as a bonus help stem bone loss, perhaps even to rebuild it. If you missed my earlier newsletter/blog on its importance , see it right here   

In additions to building strength, lifting weights has a host of benefits. Let’s take a look.

Lose weight and burn more calories.

Doing exercises that emphasize cardiovascular health  like running, biking, and swimming, can help get rid of belly fat. Lifting weights, while building more muscle, also helps to burn more calories, because muscles are metabolically active. This means that they burn calories even when they aren’t being exercised, from 7 to 10 calories per day. Fat, on the other hand, burns only 2 to 3 calories per pound daily. Hence, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. What’s not to like here?

Studies have shown that weight training combined with a healthy diet, can help preserve lean muscle mass that’s lose through aerobic workouts.  When weight loss occurs in the absence of strength training, some of all facts of body composition are lost – fat, muscle, and some in bone.  Losing weight from muscle and bone is not a good thing.

Protect your bones.

As I mentioned bones become more brittle and weaker due to natural occurring lower levels of estrogen which is the hormone responsible for maintain bone mass. Lifting weights can help build bone mineral density through a thing called Wolff’s Law, which states that bones can grow in response to forces that are placed upon it. Thus, the pressure on your joints through weight-bearing exercises can actually contribute the growth of stronger, healthier bones.

Manage stress and boost your mood.

Lifting weights can help to release tension and enhance your mood by releasing those ever-popular feel-good hormones called endorphins. There has been some recent research done that suggests that exercise, including weight training, may help protect against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Another hormone, irisin, which is released during exercise, may help promote neuronal growth in the hippocampus – the area of the brain dedicated to learning and memory. DiDio, quoted earlier says, “Any type of exercise is a mood booster, but weight training makes you feel stronger and it builds the back and neck muscles that are most directly associated with stress.”

When you’re moving and stressing your muscles, your body pumps oxygen-rich blood to your brain, boosting neuroplasticity – your brain’s ability to create new neural connections and adjust to changes in the environment.  Increased neuroplasticity can help you better handle stressful situations in everyday life and keep you mentally sharp.

Improve your posture.

People who work primarily at a desk are likely to deal with rounded shoulders and a gradually hunching back, which in turn add extra pressure on the low back, which then leads to poor posture and an increasingly limited range of motion in the shoulders, which are the most flexible joints in the body.

Lifting weights can help reduce all of this by opening up the chest, strengthening the back muscles, and improving freedom of movement. It will also help to strengthen  your core, which keeps the back in alignment and upright.

Reduce back pain.

I know far too many people, and I’m guessing that you do, as well, who suffer from back pain, and are resigned to living with it through their “golden” years. Surely, there is no one reason for back pain, but muscular imbalances, like weak knees and an unstable core, can contribute along with other things. Back pain is often the result of poor bio-mechanics. Various muscles work in a partnership with one another, and if there is a weak spot somewhere, it may eventually show up in different areas of the body. By building a total-body strength, you can bypass most injuries.

Be more in tune with your body.

This is a huge factor in my mind. There’s nothing like lifting a pair of weights to help you tune into your senses when you’re working out.  Lifting weights creates greater awareness around using your breath to help you get the most out of each move.  Doing complex moves helps to develop listening and cognitive skills, as you work to execute a move properly.

For me, weight training has also been a confidence and competence builder. I still wonder how I went so long without knowing the level of personal accomplishment and freedom that I now know.

I’ve been amazed at the big changes I’ve experienced in my body, my mind, and my spirit in a relatively short period of time. I wish the same for you.

Again, I highly recommend with a certified personal trainer, at least in the beginning,  to help you maximize your efforts and keep you from injury.

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